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Profile of Van Jones: Special Advisor to the White House on Green Jobs


Portrait of Van Jones
Photo courtesy of the Center for American Progress

Van Jones – An Introduction:

In March 2009, President Barack Obama chose Van Jones as special advisor for green jobs, enterprise and innovation with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Prior to his appointment to the White House staff, Jones had established a well-deserved reputation as a national environmental leader, social entrepreneur and tireless champion of programs designed to put impoverished people to work in green collar jobs that address important environmental issues.

Van Jones – Early Life:

Van Jones was born in 1968 in rural Tennessee. He grew up in Jackson, Tennessee, a small town about 90 miles east of Memphis.

His parents were educators—his mother a high-school teacher and his father a junior-high school principal—and he has a twin sister named Angela. His grandfather was a minister with the Christian Methodist—formerly Colored Methodist—Episcopal Church.

Jones has described himself as a “bookish and bizarre” child; his twin sister says he was “the stereotypical geek” who “just kind of lived up in his head a lot.”

Van Jones – His Name:

Van Jones’ parents named him Anthony. He took the name Van during his freshman year of college. He thought Anthony Jones sounded dull, and he decided he needed a new identity.

In a 2009 interview with The New Yorker, Jones told writer Elizabeth Kolbert that he chose the name Van because “it has a little touch of nobility, but at the same time it’s not overboard.”

Van Jones – Education:

Van Jones attended the University of Tennessee at Martin, majoring in communications and political science. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1990.

After interning at a couple of newspapers, Jones decided journalism wasn’t his calling. He enrolled in Yale Law School and graduated in 1993 with a J.D. degree.

After receiving his law degree, Jones moved to San Francisco to become a civil-rights lawyer.

Van Jones – Family Life:

Van Jones is married to Jana Carter, an employment lawyer. They have two sons.

Van Jones – Career Milestones:

1993 – Jones set up the Bay Area PoliceWatch, which included a community hotline that took complaints about police misconduct and a lawyer-referral service for victims of police brutality.

1996 – Jones founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit “strategy and action” organization that works for “justice, opportunity and peace in urban America.”

2008 – Jones launches Green For All, a national program that “fights both poverty and pollution” by placing people from impoverished areas in green collar jobs.

2008 – Jones’ book, “The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems,” was published and became a national bestseller.

Van Jones is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress and has served on the boards of several leading environmental and nonprofit organizations, including the Apollo Alliance, Social Venture Network, Bioneers and Rainforest Action Network.

Van Jones – Honors:

Van Jones has received many honors and accolades for his work to battle poverty through environmental restoration and preservation. Here are just a few:
  • Named a 2008 Environmental Hero by TIME magazine
  • Chosen as one of the “Daring Dozen 2008” by the George Lucas Foundation
  • Selected as one of Fast Company’s “12 Most Creative Minds of 2008”
  • Received the 2008 “Community Environmental Leadership” award from Global Green USA
  • Chosen as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum
  • Awarded a “Next Generation Leadership” fellowship by the Rockefeller Foundation
  • Received the 1998 Reebok International Human Rights Award

Van Jones – Notable Quotes:

  • "Dr. King didn't get famous giving a speech that said, ‘I have a complaint.’ It's time for us to start dreaming again and invite the country to dream with us. We don't have any ‘throw away’ species, nations, or children. We must birth a global green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty."
  • “You have construction workers who are idle, and they’re going to be idle for twelve months, twenty-four months, thirty-six months. They’re not going to be able to build anything. Let them rebuild everything. We have people coming home from wars, coming home from prisons, coming out of high school with no job prospects whatsoever. Let us connect the people who most need work with the work that most needs to be done.”
  • “All the big ideas for getting us onto a lower carbon trajectory involve a lot of people doing a lot of work, and that's been missing from the conversation. This is a great time to go to the next step and ask, well, who's going to do the work? Who's going to invest in the new technologies? What are ways to get communities wealth, improved health, and expanded job opportunities out of this improved transition?

    “That's one component: Rather than creating job-training pipelines that put these kids at the back of the line for the last century's pollution-based jobs, we need to be creating opportunities for them to be at the front of the line for the new clean and green jobs.”

  • “We need a different on-ramp for people from disadvantaged communities. The leaders of the climate establishment came in through one door and now they want to squeeze everyone through that same door. It’s not going to work. If we want to have a broad-based environmental movement, we need more entry points. ...

    “Remember, a big chunk of the African-American community is economically stranded. The blue-collar, stepping-stone, manufacturing jobs are leaving. And they’re not being replaced by anything. So you have this whole generation of young blacks who are basically in economic free fall.

    “If we can get these youth in on the ground floor of the solar industry now, where they can be installers today, they’ll become managers in five years and owners in 10. And then they become inventors. The green economy has the power to deliver new sources of work, wealth and health to low-income people—while honoring the Earth. If you can do that, you just wiped out a whole bunch of problems. We can make what is good for poor black kids good for the polar bears and good for the country."

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